Central Coast Mariners manager Graham Arnold has rejected an offer from League One Sheffield United in a very public way. Citing a video conference with Blades football director Dave Bassett, Arnold said, among other things, that the financial offer was too low and the club was uninterested in developing its on-field style, labeling the approach as 'prehistoric.'
Having been linked with Chinese clubs throughout this young offseason, where money is more plentiful and often clubs are newer, the assumption is that Arnold would have more license to impart his preferred playing style. Perhaps now that his disinclination for Sheffield United's offer has been so widely reported, Arnold may not receive as many opportunities in Britain.
According to Sky Sports, Arnold explained why he so quickly refused the Blades' offer:
In all honesty, I didn't have to think too long or too hard about it. It just wasn't for me. Forget that the financial offer in itself was quite poor, but I would have been taking three steps backwards in my development as a professional coach if I had gone...Being one of the bigger lower league clubs, I was expecting a lot more in terms of how they wanted to develop as a club on the field. But they just didn't seem interested when I was talking about playing a short passing game and taking the football another level up. It was about smashing the ball long and working on set-pieces. It was prehistoric stuff. That's not the way to develop a football team.
In addition to the rarity of so clear a dressing down from a figure still actively involved in the game, Arnold's description of Sheffield United's approach is fascinating on two levels. First, while Australian club football is mostly unknown in the UK and thus many will not be familiar with Arnold's or Melbourne Victory manager Ange Postecoglou's aesthetically pleasing and effective systems, Australia is an unlikely origin for such criticism of an English club. While Arnold was certainly referring only to Sheffield United in this case, it is difficult not to read a wider criticism of English football in his comments.
Second, Europe (and increasingly Asia) is seen as the ultimate destination for those involved in Australian football. Successful A-League players have moved to second or third division clubs in Europe because the money is often better and the opportunities are seen as greater. Yet this is an example of a high profile figure in the A-League explicitly stating that a move to England's third division would be a major step backward in his career. There can be no doubts that the stature of the A-League has increased in recent years, but rare have been moments where direct comparisons have been possible with developed leagues in other countries (in other words, not including China because of the massive investment that has made it difficult to determine the 'normal').
Arnold may yet go to China, and perhaps players and managers view the world of football differently. But at the moment, the refusal to lower standards for what previously would have been a 'better opportunity' is a big deal for the A-League.